Category Archives: crazy stuff

Seinfeld makes it to court

I’ve written previously on how Alice in Wonderland has made it into many Court judgments. Well, now Jerry and Elaine have made it into a judgment too!

In Parish Oil Co Inc v Dillon Companies Inc, the US Court of Appeals in Colorado mentioned Seinfeld in an anti-trust case:

Indeed, the plaintiffs’ reading would apparently render unlawful in the State of Colorado a promotional gimmick so common that it features in an episode from Seinfeld:

JERRY: “Atomic Sub”? Why are you eating there?

ELAINE: I got a card, and they stamp it every time I buy a sub. Twenty four stamps, and I become a Submarine Captain!

JERRY: What does that mean?

ELAINE (embarrassed): Free sub.

Seinfeld: The Strike (NBC television broadcast Dec. 18, 1997).

If the first twenty-four sandwiches are sold for $4 apiece at a cost to the maker of $3, the customer who follows through and redeems the offer will have spent $96 to buy $75 worth of sandwiches. But the last one is sold below cost (in fact, it is “free”), making it illegal under the plaintiffs’ version of the UPA. We do not believe the Colorado legislature would have acted so cavalierly as to ban such customer-rewards programs—indeed, to make them criminal—without more clearly expressing an intent to do so.

The plaintiff had sought to challenge a scheme whereby consumers at a particular supermarket got reduced cost petrol from a particular supplier if they had purchased groceries of a specified value. I’m sure this is familiar to all and sundry (our house abounds in vouchers for cut-price petrol from various outlets).

I think it’s awesome that the Court used Seinfeld to illustrate its point.

Now my only wish is that a court use the episode from Treehouse of Horror IV  to illustrate the concept of nemo dat quod non habet (you cannot give what you do not have). In a portion of this episode, Ned Flanders appears as the devil and tempts Homer with a donut in exchange for his soul. Homer, of course, accepts the offer and signs the contract. He cannot resist eating all of the donut, and the devil appears to claim his soul. However, Marge and Lisa are able to show that Homer could not give his soul to the devil because he had already given his soul to Marge on their wedding day (Marge produces a signed photo as evidence of this). Accordingly, the devil cannot take Homer’s soul, but turns his head into a huge donut… There you have it: nemo dat quod non habet in a nutshell.

Well, I’m a property lawyer, of course my wishes are nerdy.

(Via Core Economics)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under consumer affairs, crazy stuff, humour, judges, law, property, television

The Spirit and the Law – consumer protection and mediums

A certain section of the British spiritualist community is protesting again the repeal of the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 (UK). The Independent reported the other day that the recently formed Spiritualist Workers Association (SWA) believes that the repeal of the legislation is discriminatory towards spiritualism. The Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) which is a long-established body, backed the changes.

The government has denied that the changes are in any way discriminatory, saying that the repeal of the legislation is merely intended to pave the way for the implementation of the EC Unfair Commercial Practices law. The Consumer Protection Regulations cover all activities involving the supply of goods and services to consumers in trade or business, and like our Australian Trade Practices Legislation, looks to prohibit any activity which is misleading to consumers, and aggressive selling techniques.

The issue is that the previous act (which replaced the Witchcraft Act 1735) required the medium to have a deceptive intent or to use a fraudulent device before any contravention could be proven. Very few prosecutions were made, because it was difficult to prove dishonest intent. By contrast, it will be easier to punish or prosecute fraudulent mediums under ordinary consumer protection laws. According to this article in The Times, about £40 million is lost per annum as a result of fraudulent clairvoyant or spiritualist schemes. I agree with the author that the veracity of the religion is not being challenged: it is merely that those who provide services should be subject to uniform standards, and should not make claims that mislead or exploit vulnerable people.

When looking at the issue, I found this interesting directive by the UK Committee of Advertising Practice, which summarises its conclusions for spiritualists, psychics and the like as follows:

  • Marketers should hold documentary evidence to prove any claims that are capable of objective substantiation;
  • Marketers should not mislead or exploit vulnerable people;
  • Claims about successfully solving problems or improving health should be avoided because they are likely to be impossible to prove;
  • Claims of ‘help offered’ should be replaced with ‘advice’;
  • References to healing should refer to spiritual rather than physical healing;
  • Direct marketers should not imply that they have personal knowledge about recipients;
  • Claims relating to the accuracy of readings or guaranteed results should not be made unless they are backed up by appropriate evidence;
  • Claims about being a personal advisor to stars, the wealthy etc and claims such as ‘…as featured on TV’ should be backed up by appropriate evidence;
  • Claims relating to the length of time that a marketer has been established should be backed up by evidence;
  • Money-back guarantees should be clear and genuine;
  • Any testimonials used should be genuine;
  • Marketers should not imply that a lucky charm can directly affect a user’s circumstances;
  • Claims that a lucky charm can act as a confidence prop are acceptable if emphasis is placed on a user’s state of mind, and unproven beliefs that do not relate to the effect of a lucky charm may be acceptable if expressed as a matter of opinion;
  • Marketers offering premium rate fortune telling services should adhere to the ICSTIS Code of Practice.

Sounds eminently sensible to me…any UK clairvoyant, spiritualist or other practitioner in the alternative health sphere would do well to heed it, and then they shouldn’t have any problem with the new legislation. Legitimate practitioners need not worry, because presumably they can provide evidence of their skills, accreditation and testimonials from satisfied customers.

Some lawyers have suggested that spiritualists should describe their service as “entertainment” or a scientific experiment. Hmm, I don’t think so. Just don’t make claims that you can’t back up.

Personally, I don’t rule out the existence of talents which I cannot explain or the effectiveness of alternative treatments, although I have a fair measure of scepticism about some practices. What I very much object to is unrealistic claims about the provision of such services.

I particularly dislike some faith healing claims where, if the service doesn’t work, the fault is not that of the practitioner or the healing method, but the fault of the patient for lacking “faith” or “determination”. As someone who has suffered from illness and disability from an early age, I know that there are some things which just can’t be fixed. Don’t get me wrong: positive thought and determination are very useful. But you’re not a failure if you’re ill. The last thing you need if you are ill is to feel that somehow it is your fault. I have personally benefited from some “alternative” therapies in relation to problems with walking, including Feldenkrais, yoga, acupuncture and Bowen therapy. A friend’s mother gave me Feldenkrias training when I was a teenager after I had an operation on my legs and had to learn to walk again, and it was extremely helpful. I doubt I would have recovered so quickly or so well without it. But ultimately, some problems can never be totally “healed”.

I guess the ultimate point for all consumers is: IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS! How loudly can I say it (well, type it)?

It doesn’t matter whether it’s spiritualism, alternative therapy or investment services. In one of my jobs, I used to come across a lot of share scams and investment scams, and I’ve seen some tragic cases. Indeed, there was a case in the paper this morning about the collapse of a Geelong investment firm which reportedly promised some investors returns of up to 70%. As I always tell my class: as a general rule, the return is directly proportional to the risk – the higher the return, the higher the risk!

So, to all you consumers out there, retain a measure of scepticism and don’t get carried away by extraordinary claims. I’m all for uniform standards which keep those who provide services to the public on the straight and narrow.

3 Comments

Filed under consumer affairs, crazy stuff, law, society

The Force definitely wasn’t with him…

A drunken man in Wales dressed up in a black bin bag and cape and attacked two cousins with a metal crutch. Why would he do that? Well, apparently he wished to join the Dark Side of the Force. The cousins had recently set up a Jedi church in Holyhead, and were making a film of themselves duelling with lightsabers when the drunken man vaulted the fence and attacked them, shouting “Darth Vader!” as he did so.

Pre-sentence reports will be heard in mid-May.

Leave a comment

Filed under crazy stuff, criminal law, law, religion, tolerance

Jah on their side…

This article about the collapse of a legal trial against some Rastafarians cracks me up.

Apparently the five Rastas had been charged with cannabis dealing, and the trial had been running for two weeks when one of the police officers recognised a paralegal from the defence team for one of the defendants. The paralegal was said to have telephoned the police and complained about alleged drug running at the Rastafarian temple, although she denied this. What were the chances of that?

The trial descended into chaos, and the prosecution decided not to tender any further evidence. The judge decided that the defendants should be acquitted.

(Hat tip to Dave Bath at Balneus)

4 Comments

Filed under courts, crazy stuff, criminal law, drugs, law, religion, society

Now I’m really disturbed

Someone found my blog via a google search for “whale penis”. I didn’t even know that I had used that second word in this blog! I know I used the word “whale” in a post featuring a picture of a little boy swimming with a whale.

I don’t even dare think why someone might be searching for that particular term. There’s some sick puppies out there.

Update

I actually did use the word “penis” once on this blog, when discussing social mores with regard to dress (or lack of dress). The extremes were Afghan women wearing burqas to New Guinea highlanders wearing only penis gourds. Obviously this is what the search picked up.

Anyway, a friend has suggested that perhaps the searcher was a connisseur of Chinese penis cuisine, described in this article here (I’d actually seen this article before via a link on J.F. Beck’s site). Ugh. Quite revolting. I’ve eaten fried bettle before in Cambodia, but I draw the line at eating schlongs.

8 Comments

Filed under blogging, crazy stuff

Property law and the One Ring

Can it really be true? Yes, it is true. The blog Law is Cool features an essay about Lord of the Rings from a property law perspective! Here is a brief extract:

Consider the following facts which seem ripped from a first year property law exam:

  1. Sauron holds ownership in the Ring through accession, by working one thing (base metals) into a new thing (a ring of power)
  2. He is dispossessed by Isildur, who now holds possession in the Ring.
  3. Isildur loses the Ring (he has a manifest intent to exclude others but no physical control) when it slips off his finger as he was swimming in the Anduin river to escape from Orcs.
  4. Déagol finds the Ring.
  5. He is dispossessed by Sméagol (a.k.a. Gollum).
  6. Gollum loses the Ring and it is finally found by Bilbo.
  7. Bilbo gifts the Ring to Frodo. Later, Aragorn (the heir of Isildur) tells Frodo to carry the ring to Mordor, making Frodo his bailee.
  8. Sam, assuming that Frodo is dead, takes the Ring according to instructions to help Frodo with the Ring in grave circumstances. Sam is acting here as a (fictional) bailee and he returns possession to Frodo after finding him still alive.
  9. At the end of the book, Gollum restores his possession of the ring. Seconds later, he and the Ring are both destroyed. At this point all property held in the Ring disappears.

Gee, I wish I’d thought of that. It is just too cool for words. My favourite part is where the priorities battle between the various parties is described. Perhaps I will use it as an example in future classes.

I have a number of thoughts on the matter, but I’ll have to wait until I’m more awake to develop them.

(via The Volokh Conspiracy)

P.S. check out the comments at both Law is Cool and the Volokh Conspiracy – hilarious.

5 Comments

Filed under books, crazy stuff, law, Lord of the Rings, property, reading

Some people will try anything

I thought I’d seen all the pathetic excuses possible for trying to get out of legal proceedings (including seceding from Australia, declaring the Court to be a hotbed of Freemasons and/or claiming that the Constitution is invalid for spurious reasons). But this is one of the best:

Richard James Howarth was remanded to appear in the Ipswich Magistrate’s Court to answer a string of traffic offences, including four counts of driving with a blood alcohol content more than three times the legal limit.

However, his lawyers said he failed to appear after having earlier informed them he would not talk to them because he is was [sic] the almighty and above answering to Queensland laws.

Early this month, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service solicitor Kevin Rose, for Howarth, told the court his client refused his office’s attempts to talk to them.

A court and a mental health expert have already deemed Howarth was mentally fit for trial, but Mr Rose maintained he has obvious mental health issues.

Mr Rose said he did not doubt Howarth genuinely believed he was God.

The Magistrate issued a warrant for Howarth’s arrest. Now if Howarth can turn the handcuffs into loaves and fishes, he might have some possibility of being believed…

Incidentally, if he is God, I have a number of questions for Him:

  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Whose God are you? It would sure help if You mediated some religious conflicts waged in Your name.
  • What is your point of view about homosexuality? (a la Southpark)
  • If you are God, why couldn’t you just magic the alcohol away from your bloodstream before you got into the car? (I’m thinking here of Aziraphale and Crowley in Good Omens

(Via Iain Hall)

Update:

A friend has asked that I recount one of my own craziest litigant in person stories. I came across this litigant in person who had exhibited the Magna Carta to his affidavit. Now that’s pretty stock standard with these guys. But the extraordinary thing was that his primary source for the Magna Carta seemed to be a novelty tea towel. I’m guessing it was a tea towel because of the fabric weave visible in the photocopy. Also there was kitschy gothic script. None of the judges commented on it, and I’m not sure that anyone else noticed.

4 Comments

Filed under cars, courts, crazy stuff, criminal law, driving, law, mental illness, religion